With plenty of outdoor space, fresh mountain air, and nature-filled activity, Lake Tahoe is easily one of the best destinations in the U.S. for a safe and responsible getaway. North Lake Tahoe, in particular, has little left to be desired for nature lovers in search of serenity, solitude, and adventure. In comparison to the South Tahoe, North Tahoe is less crowded, and caters to a quieter and slower pace of life. For those who love to be active, the offerings both on and around the Lake are some of the best things to do in North Lake Tahoe, and will be sure to get your heart pumping. The Tahoe region may be famous for its world-class ski hills, but the sun-shining months are truly the time to explore the lake and its breath-taking landscapes. Enjoy the peaceful, mountain-dwelling lifestyle and the sights of the rugged, boulder-filled shoreline with all that North Lake Tahoe has to offer this summer, fall, or spring.
Note: The best time to visit Lake Tahoe during this summer/fall high season is during the week! Weekends can get very busy, so to enjoy a safe and responsible getaway with fewer crowds and no waits, visit mid-week when kids are back to online-learning and parents are working from home. Keep reading for what to do in North Lake Tahoe for the perfect socially-distanced trip.
Best Things to Do in North Lake Tahoe (A COVID-19-Friendly Outdoor Guide!)
Looking for things to do in South Lake Tahoe? Click here to open a new tab for my Tahoe South itinerary and travel guide!
Enjoy the fresh air and scenery while hiking in North Lake Tahoe.
Whether you’re an experienced incline hiker or prefer an easy terrain, there are hiking trails in North Lake Tahoe that are suitable for every level. No matter where you choose to hike, you will be sure to be met with a beautiful landscape and plenty of crisp mountain air.
Waddle Ranch Preserve: This 6-mile moderate elevation hike in Truckee is found on a protected wildlife preserve and historical area, and takes about 4 hours round trip to complete. On this hike, you’ll find a variety of flora and fauna, a varied landscape from rugged terrain to a wildflower-lined creek, all backed by the majestic Sierra Nevada mountainscape.
Monkey Rock: With a namesake that alludes to a granite boulder carved out to resemble a monkey, this popular 2.6 out and back trail offers panoramic views of the sparkling Crystal Bay. It’s a relatively short and steep hike, but the views are worth it.
Donner Memorial State Park: If you’re looking for a different body of water in Lake Tahoe (which is home to several!) Donner Lake and Memorial State Park in the town of Truckee offers hiking, picnicking, boating/fishing, jet skiing, and camping. With over 8 miles of hiking, the trails in and around Donner Summit range from an easy tread to steep climbs.
Tip: Early morning hikes are best for cooler weather and seclusion. Don’t forget to bring sunscreen and your reusable water bottle! The high altitude and heat can take a toll.
Pick up speed while riding one of the North Lake Tahoe bike trails.
Flume Trail: The popular and rather advanced 12.8-mile Flume Trail beginning in Incline Village will lead you to Monkey Rock and beyond. Highlights of the trail include Marlette Lake (great for a swim to cool off in) and towering views over the magnificent blue and turquoise-colored Sand Harbor. Tip: Grab breakfast at the Tunnel Creek Cafe located just below the trailhead before heading off on your bike ride or hike.
Tahoe North’s Ale Trail: Beer and biking? You bet. On the Ale Trail, you can walk, paddle, peddle, or crawl this craft beer experience for some of North Tahoe’s best breweries.
Alder Creek Adventure Center: Mountain biking, hiking, and horseback riding of all levels are welcome at Alder Creek, with both guided and non-guided rides.
Northstar: This famous mountain resort offers the best downhill mountain biking in the nation. With various trails to choose from, there are mountain biking options for everyone.
Get on the pristine lake for some North Lake Tahoe kayaking or Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP).
You simply cannot visit Tahoe without getting on the lake for some paddleboarding, or my personal favorite, kayaking. Not only are these activities a great workout, but being on the water gives you an astonishing look into how clear the lake water really is. With up to 70 feet of visibility, you’ll be mesmerized by Lake Tahoe’s clarity and various shades of blue from one part of the lake to the other.
Tahoe Adventure Company: The Tahoe Adventure Company at Tahoe Vista Recreation is the ultimate place for kayak and paddleboard rentals on the North Shore. They offer both guided and non-guided tours (I strongly recommend the guided!) including full moon, stargazing, and sunset paddles. The friendly and informative local guides will teach you all about the lake and surrounding areas, leading you to the most scenic points and insider locations.
Spend time at the beautiful North Lake Tahoe beaches.
The North Shore is known for its iconic, rugged, and boulder-filled shoreline where beaches range from action-packed and lively, to serene and secluded. Shady pines line the golden sand and views of the lake will leave you captivated for hours. Some of my favorite beaches in North Lake Tahoe include:
For swimming – Sand Harbor: Just south of incline village on the northeast shore, Sand Harbor is one of Lake Tahoe’s most popular beaches. (Get there early if you plan to drive, as parking is very limited.) This picturesque beach is famous for its jeweled-toned colored waters and makes for a scenic spot to relax or get in or on the water.
For families – King’s Beach: a popular and family-friendly beach across a pedestrian dining area with shady picnic areas and a kid’s playground. Jet skis and motorized water sports are also welcome around here.
For hikers – Secret Harbor: This beach on national forest land on the northeast shore is especially popular for hikers and boaters. Parking is free but there are no BBQ or picnic facilities in the area.
For photos or relaxing – Secret Cove: A short hike is required to get to this secluded beach as the name suggests. Secret Cove is the best beach for the ever-Instagrammable and iconic Lake Tahoe boulder photos. Just be mindful that this beach is clothing optional!
For everyone – Tahoe City Commons Beach: Another lively and popular beach, this one is the main beach in Tahoe City. A great place to also walk around the downtown area to check out the shops and restaurants nearby.
Remember: When visiting Tahoe’s beaches and parks be a responsible traveler and always pack out what you pack in, and dispose of trash properly. Leave the area better than you found it to help “keep Tahoe blue.”
Golf at one of the stunning North Lake Tahoe golf courses.
Golfing is one of the few pandemic-friendly social sports currently available and Lake Tahoe has no shortages of breath-taking world-class golf courses. Two of my favorite golf courses in North Lake Tahoe include:
Tahoe City Golf Course: A 100+-year-old, beginner-friendly, 9 hole, par 3 golf course created by America’s first professional woman golfer, May “Queenie” Dunn Hupfel. The tree-lined fairways and friendly staff give you a real homey, local Tahoe feel.
Gray’s Crossing: For something a little more advanced, this Peter Jacobsen/Jim Hardy designed championship golf course is fun yet challenging, with views set against the stunning scenery of pine trees and Mt. Rose. Gray’s Crossing has an equally impressive sister course, Old Greenwood, and are both part of the Tahoe Mountain Club, offering 4-season exclusive membership and activities.
More golf courses in North Lake Tahoe:
Tour the Thunderbird Lodge and Yacht.
On the northeast shore, you will find Lake Tahoe’s most jaw-dropping piece of property, the historic Thunderbird Lodge and Yacht. Built in 1936 for real estate mogul George Whittell Jr., the Thunderbird Lodge became the most expensive property sold in the U.S. at the time of sale in 1998, for 56 million dollars cash to Jack Dreyfus, the inventor of the mutual fund. The exceptional Tudor-revival summer estate contains 10 structures including a room for Whittell’s pet elephant, (Whitell was an animal lover and also had a pet lion) an underground opium den, and rooms with wall-to-wall windows that expose the most beautiful views of the surrounding lake and acres of national forest on which the property was built. The tour will give you a peek into both the original dwellings of George Whittell Jr. and the fascinating quirks of the character he was. His personal boat, the Thunderbird Yacht was built to resemble his airplane and continues to sail its legacy across the eastern shore.
Note: Thunderbird Lodge tours may be currently closed. Check the website to verify.
Dine at one of these best restaurants in North Lake Tahoe.
Lakefront, mountainside, or overlooking a scenic fairway, North Lake Tahoe’s diverse environment offers so many different sceneries to enjoy outdoor dining. Tahoe is known for its farm-fresh and locally-sourced ingredients, making each meal a feast for all senses.
Lunch/Dinner in North Lake Tahoe:
Lone Eagle Grill: Located at the beautiful Hyatt Regency, the Lone Eagle Grille is the best place to have a sunset lakefront dinner. Some of their standout items include the ahi poke stack, the highly-coveted Ora King Salmon (AKA the Wagyu of Salmon varieties), and absolutely DO NOT miss the Baked Tahoe for dessert. Even if not dining here, you’ll want to visit for a drink or dessert to witness the magnificent sunset from their poshly-designed beach deck.
PJ’s Bar & Grill: No matter if you are a golfer or not, clubhouses across the globe have some of the best restaurants to dine in. Overlooking the picturesque 18th hole at Gray’s Crossing, PJ’s is the warm-weather al fresco dining experience you won’t want to miss. Their seasonal and summer fresh menu includes bright and flavorful options such as a king salmon avocado toast, vegan Singapore noodles, and a delightful peach Caprese salad, all made from locally-sourced produce.
Gar Woods Grill & Pier: A trendy and popular waterfront restaurant famous for their frozen rum cocktails called “Wet Woodys,” with an eclectic menu of grilled proteins, pastas, seafood, and more. Their sister restaurant, Riva Grill is equally as satisfying in both the view and food!
Note: Due to dining safety restrictions, restaurants may be operating at a limited capacity. Make sure to book reservations in advance and don’t forget your mask for when entering or interacting with waiters and staff.
Best breakfast in North Lake Tahoe
Start the day off right with one of these outstanding North Lake Tahoe breakfast spots!
Tunnel Creek Cafe: A fun and outdoorsy cafe found at the base of the Flume Trail. The perfect spot for breakfast before hiking, biking, or exploring the northeast shore, and is also great for lunch, too!
Fire Sign Cafe: This American-style restaurant has a huge menu of all the breakfast and brunch classics including omelettes, french toast, benedicts and so much more. Everything here is handmade from scratch from their sauces and dressings, to baked goods and patties. You will have no trouble finding something you love including gluten-free and vegan options, and will really taste the difference of real ingredients made and served with care.
Drink Coffee Do Stuff: For something more simple or quick, this cool coffee shop in Incline Village brewing specialty Tahoe-roasted coffee is a local favorite. Good, strong coffee and breakfast bites like avocado toast and fresh Truckee bagels make it the perfect quick morning coffee run.
Marty’s Cafe: Another all-day breakfast spot with rave reviews, Marty’s Cafe in Truckee serves Californian and French breakfast and lunch dishes in a cozy atmosphere. Don’t sleep on the french toast fondue or Israeli couscous soaked in coconut milk with sweet dried fruit and nuts!
Where to stay in North Lake Tahoe:
The hotel accommodations in Lake Tahoe have all taken upon the maximum health and safety regulations for the protection of guests against Covid-19. This includes complete and frequent sanitization, physical distancing protocols, temperature checks and other guidelines for your protection. You will have peace of mind staying at any of these recommended properties below for a safe and healthy trip.
Luxury: The Hyatt Regency is a luxury lakefront resort with both standard hotel rooms and suites, as well as beachfront lodge-style cottages complete with their own kitchenettes and luxury in-suite amenities for your entertainment and comfort. Hyatt Regency resort amenities include a large outdoor pool, spa and salon, 7 dining and drinking options, a fitness center, lake activity rentals, and the famous Grand Lodge Casino. The Hyatt Regency is also a pet-friendly Lake Tahoe hotel!
Affordable Luxury: For simple and modest lodge-style luxury, The Border House offers cool and quirky vintage Tahoe-style accommodations in a registered historical building. Owned and operated by the adjacent Crystal Bay Casino, rooms at the Border House are equipped with chromotherapy jacuzzi tubs and fireplaces, perfect to unwind in after a long day on the lake. Conveniently located to North Tahoe beaches and dining.
Modern Comfort & Budget-friendly: The Best Western Plus in Truckee is a lodge-style upper-midscale AAA 3-Diamond hotel designed for enhanced comfort and to suit the needs of any traveler. Amenities include a year-round heated outdoor pool, fitness center, laundromat, and complimentary breakfast. The hotel is just minutes away from the famous Northstar village.
Staying in South Lake Tahoe:
If you prefer to stay in Tahoe South while spending the day exploring Tahoe North, I recommend booking a room at Montbleu Resort Casino & Spa for its excellent Stateline location and modern rooms and amenities, which include a beautiful indoor pool, spa, fitness center, 6 dining and drinking options, shows and nightlife entertainment, and a world-class casino. Montbleu is within walking distancing to restaurants, shops, the lake, and the reknowned Edgewood golf course.
South Lake Tahoe vs North Lake Tahoe
Deciding to stay in South or North Lake Tahoe is a common question with a fairly simple answer. No matter where you stay, you will have access to great trails, beaches, and lake activities. If you prefer a little more entertainment and nightlife, consider staying in South Tahoe while taking a day or two to explore the North Tahoe activities listed here. If a quieter and more solitary experience is what you are after, Tahoe North will be perfect for you. The time it takes to get from north to south can take up to an hour, and I recommend exploring both!
South Lake Tahoe Highlights:
One of my favorite areas to explore in South Lake Tahoe is Heavenly Village, where the Heavenly Gondola is found. Conveniently located less than a 10-minute walk from Montbleu Resort, the Heavenly Gondola will take you up to the Cafe Blue Observation Deck at the midpoint of the ride for the very best panoramic views of Lake Tahoe. At the top of the Gondola ride, you will have access to hiking trails, the Tamarack Lodge, and the Ridge Rider Mountain Coaster. Heavenly Gondola is currently open for your enjoyment, with a commitment to safety including frequent sanitization, mask requirements, and physical distancing measures.
After a day out in South Lake Tahoe, be sure to stop by the Blue Lake Tavern (a 5-minute drive from Heavenly) for a local pub with a local vibe. Their wide range of menu items includes bar favorites like wings, pizza, tacos, burgers, and of course plenty of craft beer and other boozey drinks in a cozy outdoor patio setting.
South Lake Tahoe Photo Spots:
Where North Lake Tahoe will command your attention to be present in the moment, South Lake Tahoe is a photographer’s (and Instagrammer’s) dream. Some of my favorite, most Instagrammable and iconic photo spots in Tahoe South include:
Emerald Bay State Park: Scenic lookouts and hiking trails. My personal favorite spot for photos! Early morning light is best and avoids the crowds.
Van Sickle Bi-State Park: An easy-to-moderate hike that sits on the statelines of California and Nevada. Lots of photo opportunities here, like the boulder view point pictured above to a small and pretty waterfall.
Cave Rock: A highway tunnel, hiking trail, and notable landmark. The top of Cave Rock is also the best place to watch the sunset in South Lake Tahoe. If you see clouds in the sky, you’ll know the sunset will be extra epic!
Looking for more about South Lake Tahoe? Click here for my South Tahoe travel guide!
Getting to Tahoe North: Reno to North Lake Tahoe
The closest airport to Lake Tahoe is the Reno-Tahoe International Airport, about a little under an hour drive to North Lake Tahoe. Several car-rental agencies are available to rent a vehicle (highly recommended!); or if you prefer, there is shuttle transportation available via the North Lake Tahoe Express.
Going off the Beaten Path in Carson Valley
Over the mountains and into green pastures, about 14 miles away from Lake Tahoe you will find the unassuming gem of the Eastern Sierra: Carson Valley. A year-round destination with 4 seasons and 3 habitats, Carson Valley’s small-town-with-big-energy appeal will steal your heart as Nevada’s best-kept secret. The disperate topography of the pine-covered mountains, big granite boulders, agricultural lands, and riparian area lined with willows and mountains on either side provide views from every turn and a scenic gateway to the great outdoors. In Carson Valley, hiking, biking, and horseback riding along the Pinyon Trail in the lush pine nuts, or along the River Fork Ranch Trail System as you encounter stealth wildlife, are met with some of the most memorable drinking and dining experiences and, top-notch golf courses. There are many reasons why a trip to Carson Valley will be worth your while, so keep reading for a few of my favorites.
Bucketlist-Worthy Carson Valley Highlight: Soaring Nevada
Your trip to the Reno-Tahoe region may be filled with activity exploring by foot, boat, or bike, but gaining a new vantage point as you soar 10,000 feet above in a glider plane will ensure you will have a trip of a lifetime. SoaringNV offers scenic rides above the valley, mountains, and the sparkling lake in tiny engineless planes. Witness the magic of the Tahoe Basin from above and experience the weightless feeling of wind soaring in a 45-minute jaw-droppingly beautiful ride. Want to feel blood-pumping maximum exhilaration? Take a topsy-turvey “Wild Ride” as you loop, roll, and fly upside down!
4 More reasons to visit Carson Valley:
If high heights and tight spaces aren’t your thing, there are plenty of other reasons to stop and explore this under the radar locale. Here are 4 more of my favorite things to do in Carson Valley:
Genoa Bar and Saloon: Nevada’s oldest thirst parlor! This charming, historic, and iconic bar has been frequented by notable figures of all types over the years, from President Roosevelt and Mark Twain, to Johnny Cash and Clint Eastwood. You’ll be taken by surprise as you sip their signature Bloody Mary or refreshing Rum Runner while delving into the history of this unique landmark. The town of Genoa where the bar resides is also Nevada’s first settlement dating back to 1851! Step back in time and experience the authentic American Wild West.
Bentley Heritage Distillery: On the complete opposite spectrum, you have the Bently Heritage Distillery — one of the most impressive and state-of-the-art spirits distilleries you’ll ever visit. Whiskey lovers will especially appreciate the detail that goes into distilling the scotch and bourbon, as they are aged in temperature-controlled rooms that emulate the weather or Scotland and Kentucky at any given time. What’s more, we’ve all heard of the Oatmilk craze by now (my personal favorite milk substitute!) but have you heard of oat gin or oat vodka? The smooth and subtle sweetness of oat spirits is something you have to try it for yourself at the sleekly designed tasting room.
Note: May be currently closed to the public. Check the website for details.
Carson Valley Wild Horses: One of the most unique wildlife encounters you’ll experience is on this photo tour of the Carson Valley Wild Horses. These majestic and astonishing stallions and mares have a fascinating history and soap opera-like family dynamic. Led by acclaimed wildlife photographer JT Humphrey, you’ll experience the beauty of these wild horses first hand, with as many photos as you can take to bring home with you.
Read more about the Genoa Bar, Bentley heritage, and the wild horses in my blog post here.
Golf & Dining: Whether you are an avid golfer or seeking a stylish clubhouse lunch or dinner, Carson Valley is home to some spectacular golf courses with views from every tee.
Genoa Lakes Golf Club: The Lakes Course at Genoa is a PGA Champion designed, links-style course that combines rolling fairways with lush wetlands, the winding Carson River, and the gorgeous backdrop of the Sierra Nevada Mountains to make for 14 holes of challenging yet picture-worthy drives. The elegant clubhouse, with its luxury amenities and full-service restaurant is the perfect place for lunch or a cocktail with a view overlooking the scenic fairway. Whether you are a golfer or not, you will surely appreciate The Lakes Course stunning landscape.
The Carson Valley Golf Course: Offers one of the most unique dining experiences even non-golfers will appreciate. Their Basque-cuisine dinners are an experience itself, as huge family-style portions of grilled meats and seafood, soup, salads, and fries come out by the platters to be enjoyed against the backdrop of the sun setting against the majestic mountain range. If you’re a foodie who has never experienced Basque-style dining, and can’t make it to the Basque region in Europe from which this type of food originates, Carson Valley Golf Course’s dinner is the next best thing!
Staying in Carson Valley
Looking for a place to rest your head and enjoy slow travel in Carson Valley? The Carson Valley Inn is a quaint hotel beaming with charming Carson Valley character. The property has 3 dining options, a casino, and a cabaret lounge.
Carson Valley is the diamond in the rough that deserves to shine, and the perfect complement to, or day trip from Lake Tahoe. Both Carson Valley and Lake Tahoe are remarkable in their own unique way; and welcome the opportunity for travelers to get away and enjoy vast open land in a safe and responsible manner. No matter Carson Valley or north or south Lake Tahoe, the entire Reno-Tahoe area’s smaller population, strict guidelines for health and safety, and ample outdoor activity options make it the ideal destination to visit for a pandemic-safe getaway.
Disclaimer: This post was kindly sponsored by Tahoe South, Tahoe North, Visit Truckee, Carson Valley Visitor’s Authority, andNorth Lake Tahoe Resort Association. A special thanks to the sponsoring tourism boards’ generous partners for providing all the lodging, dining, and experiences for this trip. As always, all opinions are strictly my own.
This post contains affiliate links. For more information, please see my Disclosures page.
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